Leeds United 2 Swansea City 1
With controversy off the pitch and difficulties on it, 2019 has brought more frustration than elation for Leeds United, but they put a troubled spell behind them in emphatic fashion to go top of the table.
Marcelo Bielsa’s team could have dropped out of the automatic promotion places for the first time since November. Instead, choruses of “Leeds are going up” rang around Elland Road as, after five defeats in their previous eight games, they produced an authoritative performance. Playing at pace, passing the ball with imaginative excellence, they could have scored more.
While the English Football League continue to investigate “spygate”, Leeds took themselves to 61 points, more than they mustered in whole of last season. It made for a happy 28th birthday for Pontus Jansson, who marked the occasion with the opening goal, while on a night when one of Bielsa’s proteges, Mauricio Pochettino, was managing in the Champions League, there was another reminder that Bielsa has friends in high places.
Pep Guardiola has described the Argentinian as the best manager in the world and loaned him Jack Harrison. While the England Under-21 international has been outshone by others in Leeds’ midfield this season, he scored a fine goal.
Leeds, who required a 101st-minute equaliser from Kalvin Phillips to salvage a draw at Middlesbrough on Saturday, were cruising before half-time. It made for a welcome change. They had conceded the first goal in their previous four games. Jansson, the centre-back swivelled to finish after Ezgjan Alioski’s shot was blocked and, for once, they did not have to chase a game.
Leeds’ attacking full-backs excelled, with Luke Ayling delivering a series of telling passes and Alioski a regular threat. The Macedonian set up the second goal, delivering a delightful cross as Harrison ghosted into space to beat Erwin Mulder with a glancing header.
Confidence had returned after Jansson’s goal, with Kemar Roofe then volleying over following a glorious move. After Harrison struck, Roofe and Patrick Bamford had further chances to extend the lead.
Swansea struck a post early in the second half, with left-back Matt Grimes’ deflected free-kick, and could rue two missed opportunities in as many minutes when Leeds were only 1-0 ahead. First a sliding Mike van der Hoorn could not apply the touch required to turn home Barrie McKay’s low cross and then Connor Roberts scuffed a shot straight at Kiko Casilla. But McKay was pressed into service in attack in a starting XI lacking a specialist striker or anyone with more than four league goals to his name, with the semi-fit, Leeds-born forward Oli McBurnie starting on the bench.
McBurnie came on to score his 16th goal of the campaign from the penalty spot after the previously excellent Ayling had carelessly tripped another Swansea substitute, Joel Asoro. Leeds, who have made a habit of scoring late goals this season, conceded one to make the finale more nervous than it needed to be, but they held on.
Leeds United (4-1-4-1) Casilla; Ayling, Cooper, Jansson, Alioski; Phillips; Hernandez (Davis 90), Roofe, Klich (Shackleton 77), Harrison; Bamford (Roberts 71).
Subs Peacock-Farrell (g), Brown, Stevens, Halme.
Swansea City (4-4-2) Mulder; Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Carter-Vickers, Grimes; Roberts, Fulton (Asoro 56), Byers, James (Narsingh 68); McKay (McBurnie 61), Celina.
Subs Nordfeldt (g), Dyer, Baker-Richardson, Harries.
Referee David Webb (Durham).